Personal Interview: Patching a Story Together

As the #2 man in a newly-formed Veterans for Peace chapter, I initiated a “training/qualification” process for veteran counselors to high school students. In our first meeting we went around the group to state what our military experience consisted of.

One individual choked up and couldn’t say much of anything, 40-plus years after his Vietnam experiences. Eventually, I pieced together a “pretty close” story. He was on many remote mountain patrols and he couldn’t verbalize the sort of assignment he was forced to accomplish.

According to the CIA (this was a CIA-funded and run program), “the premise of the (Operation Phoenix) pacification program was that if peasants were persuaded that the government of South Vietnam and the United States were sincerely interested in protecting them from the Viet Cong and trained them to defend themselves, then large areas of the South Vietnamese countryside could be secured or won back from the enemy without direct engagement by the US military.” That’s the ivory-tower/official ideal.

Observing a middle-age ex-Marine crying, not about an immediate family situation but about what he had participated in so many years ago, the question arose as to which story to believe… the ivory-tower/official ideal above, or potential real-world “other accounts” such as the one below?

According to “other accounts,” the actual practice was dirty, immoral and illegal “wet work” (using CIA terminology). According to these “other accounts,” it amounted to rooting out the Viet Cong informants, often by wiping out a whole village in the process: every man, woman, child. The hidden “threat” to the participants under orders was “you have to go along to get along.” In other words, you’re deep in the hinterlands and if you don’t “go along,” there’s the constant “danger” of hidden snipers, sudden ambushes, or even “friendly fire” occurrences on the way back.



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